The longer one is a Criminal Defense Lawyer, the more one notices the failings of High School Civics/Government teachers. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in Wisconsin where Wisconsin high school graduates (now members of the legislature) took a swipe at the rights of citizens to unionize. Don’t blame them, blame the folks who molded their perspective on government and individual/group rights.
But, I’m not here to talk about Wisconsin. That topic is now officially worn-out. I’m here to talk about two gripes I have with civics teachers in secondary education. I’ll assign grades.
4th and 5th Amendments (F). I trust that the Bill of Rights is posted in every American Government classroom, but I suspect it is written in cyrillic. That’s fine and good for the kids in Brighton Beach, but it’s not of much use to the other 99.9% of the population. How do we know? We see the results. Despite the admonition, “You have the right to remain silent…,” folks feel the need to talk and talk and talk and talk. Afterward, when reminded of the simplicity of the phrase, they look up with both bewilderment and shame. If only they truly understood…
The Role of Congressmen and Senators (F—). I get a lot of calls from former servicemembers who have something in their records that is bad/wrong. Often, they are veterans who received a discharge that is characterized as something less than Honorable. They all want their situations fixed or upgraded. Most want the change to occur for free. To accomplish this, they call their Congressman or Senator. The aide at the office tells them that the elected official is deeply concerned for their fellow citizen (they are always “deeply concerned”), and they agree to “do what they can.” What they do, often, is submit some matters to the Department of Defense that result in absolutely no relief whatsoever. In doing so, they fail the client by wasting an appeal opportunity (they are very limited) with a half-assed letter. Then, I get a call, and my arsenal of possible weapons in the case has been fleeced because some aide to Senator X decided to pull an appeal out of their ass in about an hour (when a merely acceptable one takes more than 10).
The problem here is that they believe that a call to an aide at the legislator’s office will solve their problems, for free. Where do they get this? How do droves of high school graduates move into the world thinking that government officials are there to generously dispense success, wealth, and vindication? They believe that their Senator will interrupt a 3-martini lunch in order to throw-open the doors of the Pentagon and gain justice. In truth, the matter is left to a clerk who writes a mealy-mouthed appeal and prints it on high-class vellum. It’s all a bunch of lip service for no other purpose than to spread goodwill and demonstrate a commitment to fighting for the rights of citizens.
Those who believe the government will be there to help them in an hour of need are destined for disappointment. Thousands of citizens in need constitute a significant populace. One citizen in need is statistically insignificant–even when you add family and friends. Just ask any economist.
When the appeal fails, and they always do, I get a call. Sometimes it’s folks who say “You told me this wouldn’t work, but…” Some are still amazed that the Department of Defense failed to kowtow to an elected official from outside the Executive Branch. When questioned about the documents included in the appeal, they are always wanting, and now the client is left with one less appeal and a lot less leverage.
That’s OK, though. It was free.
I don’t totally blame the kid on the phone, though. The blame is equally shared with the jerk who, upon receiving tenure at East Pigcrap High School, stopped giving a damn.